St. Athanasius Paulose popularly known as 'Valiya Thirumeni', is one of the luminous stars of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who as the head of the Church in India, successfully guided its destiny for nearly four decades. It was his firm faith, persistent efforts and ardent prayers that helped the Malankara Syrian community to maintain their ancient links with the Holy See of Antioch. Valiya Thirumeni is the founder father of many of the spiritual organizations like Sunday School Association, Mor Gregorios Youth Association etc.. Consecrated as Metropolitan for the Angamali diocese in 1910 by Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abded `Aloho (Abdulla II), he became the Malankara Metropolitan of the Jacobite Syrian Church in 1918. After serving the Church in Malankara for more than four decades, he passed away on 25th January 1953 at the age of 84.
Known for his piety, integrity, sincerity and unflinching faith, the spiritual father is remembered by the Malankara Church with great veneration. Valiya Thirumeni loved his people and defended them until his last, leaving behind him a magnificent legacy. He dedicated his entire life for the cause of the Church and the society. People revere him as a saintly father; he is the pride of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church. Fifty one years after his demise, on 19th August 2004, the Church beatified Mor Athanasius Paulose. Valiya Thirumeni is the only prelate from India, other than Chathuruthy St. Gregorios Geevarghese (Parumala Thirumeni) of Malankara who has been raised to the status of sainthood.
Valiya Thirumeni was born on 23rd Jan 1869 to 'Mathai’ of Ayyambillil Thekkekarayil family and ‘Anna’ of Kuttikatt Pynadathu family of Nayathodu at Akaparambu, Angamali. He was christened by name PAULOSE at the ancient Akaparambu Mor Sabor Mor Apfroth church. Thirumeni grew up in his mother's house (Pynadathu) at Akaparambu as she being the only child of her parents had inherited the property. Hence most of the people recognize Valiya Thirumeni as one from the Kuttikatt Pynadathu family.
From childhood days Paulose had shown deep affection in spiritual matters. He was greatly interested in the study of scriptures and in religious practices. His extraordinary brilliance caught the eye of everybody. Ambatt Mor Kurillos Geevarghese, the then Metropolitan of Angamali diocese, came to know about him. Under his advise, young Paulose became a regular server in the Madboho of the Akaparambu Church. When Moran Mor Ignatius Peter IV, the Patriarch of Antioch was celebrating the Holy Qurbono in the church during his Apostolic visit to India in 1876, Kunji Pailo as he was fondly called, a child of mere 7 years old, was instructed by Ambatt Metropolitan to read the fifth tubden (Diptych) in Syriac. In his ringing musical voice while he was reading it, the Patriarch looked back at the enlightened child and specially blessed the boy after the Holy Qurbono, an essential pass to achieve higher levels of spiritual glory later in life.
On 21st April 1879 at the tender age of ten, young Paulose was ordained Deacon by Ambatt Thirumeni. The Metropolitan taught our Deacon Paulose, theology and Syriac. His English education was at the Alwaye Government High School. Soon he was sent to the seminary at Kottayam where he was under the direct care of Pulikottil Joseph Mor Divanasios. By the time he passed matriculation from the C.M.S. School he had almost completed his education in the seminary as well. Shortly thereafter he was given the assignment of a Malpan (teacher) in the seminary where he remained sometime till 1895 when he was taken home due to a severe illness of typhoid. He was about to die, but only miraculously escaped; thanks to his prayers. This was a turning point in his life, he vowed to devote the rest of his life for the Church. After recovery, he was given charge of the construction of the St.Mary's church at Thrikunnathu, Alwaye (there was no seminary then).
Ordination as 'Kassisso' & 'Ramban' by Parumala Thirumeni
On 25th November 1898, Deacon Paulose was ordained 'Kassisso' (Full Priest) by St. Gregorios Geevarghese (Parumala Thirumeni). After three days, on 28th, he was ordained 'Ramban' (Monk-Priest, Rabban), again at the blessed hands of Mor Gregorios assisted by Pulikottil Mor Divanasios and Kadavil Mor Athanasius Metropolitans. From then on he came to be popularly known as KOCHU PAULOSE RAMBAN. There was then the other Paulose Ramban of Kochuparambil (Later Paulose Mor Kurillos Malankara Metropolitan -d. 1917) in Malankara.
Kochu Paulose Ramban (Valiya Thirumeni) in Parumala Seminary
Before the completion of the church at Thrikunnathu, Kochu Paulose Ramban was entrusted with construction of the seminary at Parumala by Metropolitan Mor Gregorios Geevarghese (Parumala Thirumeni). Hence he moved to Parumala with the consent of Kadavil Paulose Mor Athanasius (Senior) who was looking after the Angamali diocese after the demise of Ambatt Thirumeni. The Ramban was actively involved in giving shape to Parumala Dayro, staying there for three years. On completion of the work there, he returned to Alwaye.
St.Gregorios in great admiration of the spiritual gifts latent in the Ramban, presented him with a 'Seelamudi', 'Pathraseen' and a copy of the book detailing the service of ordination - the prophetic gifts which are not required by a Ramban but revealed the path the Ramban would tread later in life.
Thrikkunnathu Seminary & Kochu Paulose Ramban
On his return to Alwaye, Kadavil Mor Athanasius (Senior) Metropolitan entrusted Kochu Paulose Ramban the responsibility of completing the construction of seminary building. Within the next three years the seminary which is now known as Thrikkunnathu Seminary, was opened. Later when Pynadath Kochu Paulose Ramban was ordained Metropolitan and assumed the charge of Angamali diocese, he expanded the Seminary building again. It was he who brought many people to Alwaye from nearby villages and gave them land to construct houses around the seminary. He even sold his ancestral property at Akaparambu for financing the construction of this Seminary building, thus replacing the old, fragile and worn out structure. Under him, Thrikkunnathu Seminary became a major theological centre in the north. It was the centre of activities of the Church in Malankara for several decades which nurtured many of our blessed apostolic dignitaries; late lamented Catholicos Aboon Mor Baselios Paulose II, Mor Gregorios (Vayaliparambil), Mor Sevarios (Mulayirickal), Mor Clemis Abraham (Knanaya), etc.
Arrival of the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Abdulla II (Abded'Aloho) in Malankara
When Metropolitan Kadavil Mor Athanasius (Sr.) was called to eternal rest in 1907, there were only 2 Metropolitans remaining in Malankara, Pulikottil Mor Divanasios and Murimattom Mor Ivanios who were in their very advanced ages, to look after the Jacobite Syrian Christians here. In order to ease their heavy load of diocesan administration that spread all over Malankara, they appealed to the Patriarch for consecrating more Metropolitans. The Holy Father approved their appeal and on 31st May 1908, Kochuparambil Paulose Mor Kurillos and Wattasseril Geevarghese Mor Divanasios were consecrated by the Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Abdulla II at the St.Mark's Syrian Orthodox Monastery, Jerusalem, as Theebel (general) Metropolitans. The delegation that went for the ordination had then, on behalf of Malankara Church, officially submitted the request to the Patriarch for H.H's visit to Malankara. Meanwhile there also aroused some dissatisfaction among the supporters of Wattasseril Methran since the Patriarch had not then yielded to their wishes to declare Wattasseril Metropolitan as the SUCCESSOR to the Malankara Metropolitan. His Holiness could not comply with the request as it being a violation of canon and practices of the Church (Pulikottil Mor Divanasios was alive then); so the Patriarch instead appointed Wattasseril Metropolitan as assistant to the Malankara Metropolitan. (Appointing a Patriarch/Catholicose/bishop as successor to another, who is functioning, is against the canonical traditions and hence is strictly followed by the ancient Churches). This incident is said to be the first cause of the unhappy revolt of Wattasseril Metropolitan, that happened some years later, against the Patriarch.
A year later on 11th July 1909, Pulikottil Mor Divanasios was called to his heavenly abode while the Patriarch was in London on his way to India. Immediately Wattasseril Metran cabled to the Patriarch in London to issue orders appointing him as Malankara Metropolitan. Being informed of the matter by the Apostolic delegate Mor Osthatheos Sleeba, His Holiness issued orders appointing Mor Geevarghese Divanasios (Wattasseril) as Malankara Metropolitan. By the end of the year, the Patriarch arrived here from London via, Alexandria. Wattasseril Metropolitan and other church dignitaries received the Holy Father at Mumbai. But very soon Wattasseril Methran started rebellion by raising unnecessary allegations against the Patriarch when His Holiness warned him for ignoring the two co-trustees who were in charge of the Beth Gaza (Treasury) together with the Wattasseril Metropolitan. The events that followed led to the formation of a anti-Patriarch group within the Holy Church under Wattasseril Metropolitan and his followers. Wattasseril Methran already had a vengeance against the Patriarch since H.H. had not approved him as the successor of Malankara metropolitan at the time of his ordination itself.
The adamant attitude of Wattasseril Metropolitan that he is unquestionable to anyone and his willful actions violating the paternal instructions of the Holy Father, culminated in his excommunication from the Holy Church by the apostolic bull of 31st May 1911 - just on the day completing 3 years of the metropolitan's consecration.
The Church in Malankara was in turmoil. To hold and firm up the Jacobites in the true faith, more apostolic shepherds were in urgent need. The Angamali diocese, meanwhile, resolved to appeal to the Patriarch to kindly consecrate Kochu Paulose Ramban as their Metropolitan. Having received testimonies about the zeal in faith, purity of character and industrious nature of the Ramban, the Holy Father was only happy to accept the request.
Consecration as Metropolitan
On 9th June 1910 Kochu Paulose Ramban was consecrated Metropolitan (Archbishop) by name 'MOR ATHANASIUS PAULOSE', at his home parish, the ancient Mor Sabor and Mor Afroth church, Akaparambu, by H.H. the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East Mor Ignatius Abded’ Aloho (Abdulla II). The very next year on 19th August 1911, when the HOLY MUROON was consecrated in Malankara (at the Mulanthuruthy Mar Thoman church) for the second time in the long history of Malankara Church, Mor Athanasius was fortunate to assist His Holiness the Patriarch.
On 14th October 1911, the holy Patriarch left the shores of Kerala, with a heavy heart. Valiya Thirumeni (Mor Athanasius), the Antiochean delegate Mor Osthatheos Sleeba and Malankara Malpan Konatt Mathen Corepiscopa escorted the Holy Father to Mumbai and bid farewell with tearful eyes and whimpering hearts.
As the Metropolitan of Angamali (the largest among all the dioceses in Malankara), Mor Athanasius administered the diocese staying at the partially completed Thrikkunnathu Seminary building. He also then held the additional charge of the diocese of Cochin.
After the demise of Mor Kurillos Paulose (Kochuparambil), Mor Athanasius Thirumeni became the Malankara Metropolitan in 1918. A year later on 26th Sep 1919, Malankara Sunday School Association (M.S.S.A) was formed at a meeting held at the Piravom Valiya church under the guidance of Mor Athanasius Thirumeni. His Grace was then chosen as the first president of the Association.
On 6th May 1922, under instruction from our Valiya Thirumeni, the Students organization of the Jacobite Syrian Church convened at Cheruthottukunnel church at Angamali, renamed itself as 'Mar Gregorios Students Association' after his beloved malpan Chathuruthy Mor Gregorios Geevarghese (Parumala Thirumeni). This was the first student’s organization in Malankara that assumed the name of St.Gregorios. ('Mar Gregorios Orthodox Christian Students Movement'-MGOCSM, was named as such only in 1960's after the reunification of the Vattasseril faction with the Jacobite Syrian Church.)
On 19th March 1930, Saint Osthatheos Sleeba, the Patriarchal delegate died and was entombed at the Arthat Simhasana church. Mor Athanasius Thirumeni was a very close associate of Mor Osthatheos Bawa.
Apostolic visit of the Patriarch St. Ignatius Elias III to Malankara
The same year in 1930, Patriarch Mor Ignatius Elias III visited India to strive for peace in the Malankara Syrian church. Mor Athanasius being the chief of the Malankara Church, was fortunate enough to accompany His Holiness throughout the Apostolic visit and participated in the discussions held in this regard. Unfortunately, His Holiness passed away on 13th Feb 1932 before accomplishing the mission, and was entombed at the Manjanikkara Dayro, which has now become a famous Pilgrim centre. Malankara Metropolitan Mor Athanasius Paulose led the last ceremonial rites of this holy Patriarch which was attended by all the Metropolitans of the Malankara Church and other top dignitaries including the representatives of the government.
Historic Malankara Association of 1935
At the historic Malankara Association meeting held on 22nd August 1935 at the Karingachira St.George church, Mor Athanasius Thirumeni was once again unanimously elected as Malankara Metropolitan. Besides His Eminence, those who attended the Holy Synod and the convention were, Mor Dionysius Mikhail of Kottayam, Niranam, Thumpamon and Quilon dioceses, Mar Thimotheos Augen of Kandanad (later Catholicos Augen I) and Mar Dioscorus Thomas of Knanaya dioceses. A Priest trustee (Pookunnel Rev. Fr. Avira Joseph) and a lay trustee (Thukalan Pailo Avira) were also elected at this Malankara Suryani Christian Association that was held with the approval of the judiciary.
'Defender of Faith' (Viswasa Samrakshakan)
Malankara Church is very fortunate for having Mor Athanasius Paulose as its Prelate for fourty-two years. Under his guidance, the Church had overcome many of the adverse situations. Undaunted faith in Our Lord was his strength. Like his predecessors Mor Athanasius Thirumeni too, was always very determined to follow the pledge he had given to His Holiness the Patriarch of Antioch at the time of his consecration. Though His Grace had to face stiff challenge from those who tried to disassociate themselves from the Apostolic faith of the Holy See of Antioch, he administered the Church with a Godly mission. Because of his determination to uphold the traditions of the Holy Church, he is often described in the Church history as Sathya Viswasa Samrakshakan ('Defender of True Faith'), a title conferred to him by the Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem I. The people also affectionately called him Valiya Thirumeni.
Many of the Church’s institutions were first organized by Valiya Thirumeni. The saddest moment in the life of Mor Athanasius Thirumeni was when Mar Augen Thimotheos of Kandanad diocese, deserted the Holy Church in 1942, in one of its difficult periods. Later on the request of Valiya Thirumeni, the Malankara Church elected two Metropolitans in 1946 and His Holiness the Patriarch of Antioch ordained them as Mor Geevarghese Gregorios (Vayaliparambil, Alwaye) and Mor Severious Paulose (Mulayirikkal family, Cherai- founder of Koratty Zion Seminary). Late lamented Metropolitan Mor Clemis Abraham of Knanaya diocese had his theological education under Valiya Thirumeni, staying at Thrikkunnathu Seminary. A few months before the demise of Mor Athanasius Thirumeni, Metropolitan Mor Philoxenos Paulose was ordained for the Kandanad diocese. (Mor Philoxenos later became the Catholicos of the East in 1974 by name Mor Baselios Paulose II)
On 25th January 1953, Our Lord called His Eminence Mor Athanasius Valiya Thirumeni to his eternal rest in heaven, at the ripe age of 84 years. The mortal remains of the Holy Father were interred at the northern side of the MADBOHO of the St.Mary's church at Thrikkunnathu, Alwaye, confirming to his last wish.
Mor Athanasius Valiya Thirumeni, the Saintly Father of the Malankara Church
Simplicity and hospitality were the hallmarks of Thirumeni. Whoever visited Alwaye Seminary went back praising Valiya Thirumeni’s hospitality. There are many incidences that explain the divinity in Thirumeni. Once a lady who was suffering from hemorrhage for several years and had spent a lot of money on medical treatments, approached Thirumeni who prayed for her and she was healed of the disease. Another known event is that of the miraculous recovery of a man called Varkey who was suffering from demon’s attacks for twenty years. This mad fellow was cured immediately after our Saintly Thirumeni placed his Sleeba (Cross) on his forehead and prayed. Many such blessed events are recalled by the elders. Thirumeni's divine life of prayers and meditation was an inspiration for all. Even in the midst of administrative duties he found enough time in preaching the Holy Gospel. He is also recognized as a great Syriac scholar.
Mor Athanasius College of Engineering at Kothamangalam, Mor Athanasius High School at Nedumbassery, Mor Athanasius English Medium School at Puthencuriz, are some of the major institutions erected to his memory; Valiya Thirumeni continues to live among us. The sandalwood cot used by Thirumeni is kept in a separate room of the office of his home parish, the Mor Sabor Mor Aphroth Church at Akaparambu. Many devotees visit the church, paying homage to the late lamented Thirumeni and pray for his intercession.
Beatification of Mor Athanasius Paulose-Valiya Thirumeni, the Malankara Metropolitan
Conferring to the wishes of the multitude of faithful, the Malankara Episcopal Synod in 2001 requested His Holiness the Patriarch, to beatify Mor Athanasius Paulose and to remember the Saintly Metropolitan's name in the 5th TUBDEN (Diptych) along with that of his mentor Chathuruthy St.Gregorios Geevarghese (Parumala Thirumeni), Patriarch Mor Ignatius Elias III (Majanikkara) and Maphriyono Mor Baselios Yeldho (Kothamangalam).
On 19th August 2004, the Supreme head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, H.H. Ignatius Zakka I Iwas issued the historic bull, canonizing Mor Athanasius Paulose, as Saint. The announcement was made at the Patriarchal Cathedral, Damascus, Syria.
The very next day, at a solemn function held under the auspices of Catholicos Aboon Mor Baselios Thomas I at the Akaparambu Mor Sabor Afroth Church (the home parish of St. Athanasius), the Patriarchal Bull conferring sainthood to Valiya Thirumeni was announced by H.E. Mor Julius Kuriakose, the first secretary to the Patriarch of Antioch & the Metropolitan in charge of the Indian affairs.
The Metropolitans of Malankara, several Priests and a great number of faithful from all over Malankara were present at the Church to hear the historic proclamation. Prior to the announcement of Beatification ceremony, the Holy Episcopal Synod of the Malankara Church met at the St. Mary's Soonoro Church at Ernakulam.